Saving the World Several Viruses at a Time.

 In a press release today, UCLA announced the discovery of a "a broad spectrum anti-viral" - a chemical compound that may be effective against many viruses both known and unknown. The press-release disclosed the publication of thefirst paper leading from the study, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

UCLA Medical School researcher Dr. Benhur Lee (full disclosure - he's my life-partner) was the lead P.I. on the project, a collaboration between scientists from the University of Texas at Galveston, Harvard University, Cornell University and USAMRIID (the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases), as well as from UCLA.

What makes this announcement particularly important is that the fight against dangerous viruses, those malevolent "creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water" (H.G. Wells, "War of the Worlds"), at times seems like a battle against an evil army of orcs and goblins whose creature-power is perpetually renewed in the fell underworld. Not only do known viruses mutate, defeating the efficacy of long-developed treatments, but wholly new - or more likely previously undiscovered - viruses erupt into the biosphere regularly. So a compound that can target viruses by a means that is not specific to one class of viruses might become one of the most important weapons to be deployed in the War of the Viruses.

The reason the compound seems to be so effective is that it targets something that every strain in one of the two broad categories of viruses possesses: "enveloped viruses", which have a membrane used by the virus as a platform for its base attack on the genome of the host cell. Although LJ001, The compound developed by Dr. Lee and his collaborators, can also attack ordinary bodily cell membranes, this tiny molecule has a peculiar preference for metabolically inactive membranes - that is, the membranes of viruses. And while the body's cells can repair themselves after their encounter with LJ001, the viruses have no such mechanism to repair damage to its membrane. You might describe them as being hoist with their own petards.

Although the molecule has been shown to interfere with virus membranes of 23 distinct pathogens - many of which are so dangerous that they can only be studied in BSL4 (Biosafety Level 4) labs - the precise form the attack on virus' membranes takes is not yet understood by the researchers. I expect to see not too much more of Dr. boyfriend Benhur Lee until the full mechanism is laid bare to science.